OTTORINO RESPIGHI: Trittico Botticelliano; Three Corali; The Pines of Rome – Beethoven Orchester Bonn/ Stefan Blunier – MD&G Live multichannel (2+2+2) SACD 937 1677-6, 56:00 [Distr. by E1] ****½:
What a nice idea to start off this concert with the scaled-down set of three tone poems, titled “per piccola orchestra,” which contrast so greatly with the closing familiar Respighi widescreen Hollywood-type work The Pines of Rome. His three more intimate musical pictures of three famous paintings by Botticelli has not been available on SACD before, but have long been one of my personal favorite Respighi works.
Its slender orchestral setup nevertheless conveys beautifully the impressions one would have taking in these three actual paintings in a museum. Spring’s magic is suggested in the first, for the painting La Primavera. The woodwinds play the part of various birds and other sounds in the woods, and the melodies of some Renaissance dances are heard in this section. The second painting is The Adoration of the Magi, and it sketches out musically its impression of each of the Three Wise Men in order. The exotic world of the Orient is depicted here. The impressive final movement is for Botticelli’s painting of The Birth of Venus. The shortest of the three, it builds on a wave-like musical motion to a great crescendo, then fades away.
The Three Chorales of 1931 are arrangements for orchestra of three Bach chorales. The first is mostly strings, the short second one features the trumpet and in the third Respighi creates a rich orchestral sound rife with Bach’s complex counterpoint. What can be said about The Pines of Rome? The Bonn Orchestra doesn’t have the impact of the Chicago and Fritz Reiner, but does a fine job in these impressionistic scores, and the surround sonics provided by MG&G are cleaner and more immersive than the three-channel signal of the RCA SACD. The orchestra swelled to its maximum size of over one hundred players for this selection, and those Roman soldiers marching down the Appian Way really come alive. While this piece doesn’t reflect the focus of the Bonn orchestra on modern and unusual older works in its repertory, but the first two pieces on this SACD certainly do. And as with most European live recordings, the audiences are deathly quiet – you would never know they were present.
— John Sunier